I’ve just returned from Thailand where I did a report on a recently completed AIDS vaccine trial. Known as the Thai Prime-Boost trial, it was the world’s largest (to date) AIDS vaccine trial and the first to show some evidence of protection (31.2 percent) against HIV.
I was asked by the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition to do a ‘journalistic’ take on the trial because it was quite controversial when it started. Many experts thought it was doomed to fail. One notable critic, HIV co-discoverer Dr. Robert Gallo, said the vaccine was as likely to protect against HIV as ‘maple syrup.’ The experts appear to have been wrong. Gallo may have used that maple syrup to make eating his words a bit more palatable.
It’s not clear where this result will lead, but it is the first time any vaccine has had any protective effect against HIV. Unfortunately, 30 percent is probably not good enough for a vaccine (though some say it could be). What I found most interesting in doing this story is how little it has captured the public’s attention. The results got fairly good coverage last fall, but I find few people outside of the AIDS research community who seem aware of it.
Also of interest to me is whether what I wrote will be considered journalism. It was paid for by a non-profit organization dedicated to finding an effective AIDS vaccine and doing science in a manner that is ethical and serves the public interest. AVAC is very highly regarded, by most, as a credible watchdog group in AIDS matters. But they are not a media organization and so most journalists I know would say what I did was not journalism. The story will be published in AVAC’s annual report and online. I’ll let you know when it comes out.